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Crystal View 2 CRT Projector Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 July 2003
ImageDespite the advent of truly exciting digital projection technology in the past few years, there is still no denying that a “big gun” CRT video projector is the best source for a great-looking video image available on the market today. While digital projectors DLPs and D-ILAs are incredibly bright and appealingly small, an eight or nine-inch CRT projector still creates a picture that looks more like film. Someday, digital projectors may surpass the performance of a CRT, but if you are in the market for the best picture money can buy in 2003, you are likely shopping for a big-time CRT projector.

There is a new kid on the block dedicated to absolute video performance with a special angle towards customer service. Crystal View was formed in 2002 to address the needs of the high-end video projection customer. Co-owners Gary Guidi (also owner of HI-REZ, one of the world’s largest and most respected projector service and repair companies) and David Wolff (formally an executive with Vidikron) teamed up to start Crystal View to provide the very best projectors money can buy, as well as providing the necessary setup, service and support to ensure that your investment lives up to its price tag. Lots of companies sell pricey eight and nine-inch CRT projectors that can potentially make a great picture. With an investment in a Crystal View projector, you get a company that takes control of the entire process of a high-end projector purchase, from selling you the projector to popping the cork on some Perrier Jouet to celebrate how good your new picture looks. Their in-home technician, if prompted, will even teach you about the intricate details of exactly why the picture looks so good. It is like video school in your living room.

The review sample I hung on my ceiling is the Crystal View 2, an eight-inch CRT projector that is capable of reproducing all of the formats I have ever dreamed of using, including 720p and 1080i HDTV. The price of the projector is $44,950, including installation and in-home calibration. Physically, the View 2 measures 29 inches in width, 38 inches in length and 21 inches in height, at an unpackaged weight of 145 pounds. The View 2 is available in a variety of high-gloss automobile colors, which can be exactly matched to the color of your choice. It has long been possible to make your projector look like your 360 Modena if so desired and this tradition continues with the Crystal View line.
The View 2 is designed to project image sizes from as small as 80 inches to as large as 180 inches, depending on your application. Standard inputs include RGBHV Video, Stereo Audio, RS232 control connection, an external switcher connection and remote. Optional connections include a second RGBHV, DVI, SDI, and multi-standard video. For outputs, the View 2 has a variable stereo audio output and RS232 pass-through. The View 2 has a max resolution of 2048 x 1536 and is clearly capable of displaying HDTV at its very highest level. The View 2 will also support nearly every conceivable aspect ratio including 1:1, 4:3, 16:9 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. Light output is rated at 1,000 ANSI lumens or an impressive 28 foot lamberts, nearly three times the number considered to be reference level. Getting down to where the rubber meets the road, the Crystal View 2 is capable of as much as 10,000:1 contrast ratio, an absolutely staggering number. Compare this to DLP, LCD and DIL-A, which most often fall below the 1,000:1 ratio. What this means is that the View 2 will display the closest to absolute black and white levels you can find. Lower contrast ratios, like those found on digital projectors, will render the darkest blacks more like darker shades of gray. While this is not the entire reason why CRT projectors rule supreme in a perfect environment, it is certainly the most important.

Virtually every aspect of the Crystal View 2 is updated from CRTs of the past. The Crystal View 2 has liquid-cooled, air-coupled lenses for picture clarity. Additionally, the View 2 incorporates complete gamma correction, assuring perfect color balance. The View 2 has astigmatism adjustment in nine separate zones for perfect focusing, sheimphlug adjustment to adjust the coupling between your lens and CRT guns, multi-zone contrast adjustment that assures even brightness throughout the picture, and one of the slickest features on the projector, ultra-simple 45 zone computer controlled and memorized convergence, just to mention a few features.

CRT’s of the past were (rightfully, in many cases) dubbed “maintenance nightmares” because of the need to continually adjust the convergence and other settings. This usually needed to be attended to by a professional, unless the owner had gone so far as to complete ISF training. While this projector comes with the complete installation package included in its price, its stability was quite notable as compared to other CRT projectors I have owned in the past. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait to get the View 2 on my ceiling, so I asked (suckered) a few of my stronger neighbors to help me lift up the 145 pound projector. While my first CRT projector experience with an old Sony seven-inch CRT was a mess, I could get the strikingly simple View 2 looking surprisingly good in less than one hour. I know nearly every client will never be as impatient as I was, but it is nice to know that the projector is easier than you might think to use and/or install. No matter how easy the View 2 is to set up for the video savvy, the tech support from Crystal View takes the setup to entirely different levels of excellence. They set up your color temperature, your aspect ratios and much more with a level of fine tuning that amateurs can’t hope to achieve.

CRT projectors do require touch-up convergences and, unless you opt for a $1,900 ACON system (which automatically converges your projector), you will want to be able to do them yourself every few weeks without having to call a local dealer. Worry not – the View 2 is not only easy to converge but it is also rock solid, not needing significant changes too often. This is very different than older, big-dollar CRT projectors and is a welcome change.

System Configuration
During the period of this review, I ran the Meridian 598 DVD player to the Faroudja NR Series Scaler, configured at 720p, using a Transparent Premium Component Video cable. I then went out of the Faroudja NR using a 30-foot Transparent Premium RGB cable into the View 2 projector. I projected onto my reference 73-inch wide 4:3 Stewart Filmscreen Studiotec 130, viewed from a distance of eight feet. For HDTV, I run the older RCA DTC-100 and set the Faroudja NR to the pass-through mode.

The Movies
One of my favorite video demos is the 1992 courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), a movie that I often use for video evaluation due to its dark yet detailed courtroom scenes and challenging contrast between the uniform whites and dark wood backgrounds. Chapter 4 contains the scene where Lt. Caffee (Tom Cruise) meets Lt. Cmdr. Galloway (Demi Moore), a visit that begins the love/hate relationship between the two that defines this film. In this scene, I paid close attention to the View 2’s ability to reproduce the white in Galloway’s dress uniform, in contrast to the black shoulder board that displays her rank. Immediately, you could discern this projector’s fantastic contrast ratio and its ability to make the blacks perfectly black, even though they exist directly next to the white. There were no signs of bleed-over, something that indicates among other things that the View 2’s power supply has more than adequate power to supply the projector. This is not a trivial feature, as many CRT’s fall short in this area, causing lines to curve and overall performance to dip. In the courtroom scene at the end of the movie where Caffee has Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) on the stand, the colors in the faces were superb and displayed exquisite color saturation throughout the entire image. The video quality of this film is good but not great, as there are some artifacts that can be accentuated on most video systems. With the View 2, I have never seen this DVD look more like film. When I reviewed the nifty and far less expensive Seleco HT200 DLP, it had great color, but this was a strength that was overshadowed by rainbow artifacts caused by the color wheel of the Seleco DLP projector on this demo.

Recently, I had a chance to put a Madrigal Imaging MPD-1 DIL-A digital projector right up against the View 2 in my room. When compared directly to the View 2, the Madrigal D-ILA had greater picture and color brightness, but in comparison, the overall picture was not up to the challenge posed by comparison to the Crystal View CRT. The CRT had a lot of brightness, but not as much as the D-ILA. However, the View 2 looked smoother and more lifelike. When playing the same “A Few Good Men” demo, blacks looked washed out when compared to the blacks on the CRT. On 1080i sources, the comparison drew closer and the D-ILA’s brightness became more of an advantage. However, on 720p, the D-ILA really struggles, reportedly because of an internal scaler issue. The View 2 was far superior for 720p and smoother for 1080i.

Another killer video demo is the CGI-animated classic “Dinosaur” (Disney Home Entertainment), a movie that is delightfully real-looking and a great movie for children and adults alike. In Chapter 3, a scene where the lemurs discover the egg that is soon to become their oversized friend Aladar, the View 2 took my breath away. I have never witnessed video this pure in my room. There was no visible noise in the picture, even though I was viewing it on a very large screen from a mere eight feet away. Amazingly, the View 2 showed no signs of individuated pixels from as close as three feet away. This is an increasingly important consideration, as many viewing environments simply won’t allow you to view from the digital projector’s recommendation distance of two-and-a half times the horizontal screen width.

I have long used the movie “Toy Story 2” (Disney/Pixar), as a personal favorite video demo. It’s a movie that is sheer eye-candy and one that will impress pretty much anyone when showing off your video gear. Although animation can be easier to reproduce than live-action film due to its lack of natural shading and color temperatures, this movie again floored me when played through the View 2. I noticed details that I had never seen on my old seven-inch CRT system. Edges that could become jagged and less than sharp were now crisp and smooth and looked altogether 3D. What you need to realize is that the feature that is most responsible for the look of depth is the smooth transition as the image nears its edge. If the edge is pure and smooth, it will look as if it disappears behind the object. If it is jagged, it looks more reproduced and less realistic.

The Downside
The Crystal View 2 needs to be installed in a room that can be completely darkened. Unlike the brighter digital projectors to a certain extent, CRT projectors cannot retain the integrity of their picture with ambient light. Proper attention, including thousands of dollars, needs to be given to making your media room dark before you install a View 2 or any CRT for that projector. System designers concerned about daytime viewing often install an alternative source like a Sony 36-inch XBR tube TV set for more casual day viewing if that is a design requirement of the room.

The Crystal View 2 is a monster at 145 pounds and needs to be wall-mounted to the ceiling. I highly recommend that you have your dealer (it isn’t really the job of the Crystal View technician) hang the projector securely. This is an urgent safety issue that cannot be overlooked. Alternatively, you can install on the floor or on a table.

Digital projectors don’t need to be converged, while CRTs do. The View 2 is the best projector I have ever witnessed for this, but you will want to learn how to converge the picture yourself in order to be able to get your system 100 percent before a dinner and a movie party. If you struggle to program the clock on your VCR, then you need to consider if a CRT projector is right for your needs.

Long-term value must be considered when investing in a large-scale CRT video system. Assuming you could buy a (very hard to find) Mercedes SL 55 AMG today, you could drive it for a few weeks and resell it within days for every penny you paid for it. With CRT projectors, this phenomenon is absolutely not the case. Therefore, you will want to make the investment taking into account the long-term performance and value of the projector. Considering the View 2’s performance for DVD and HDTV, there should be little to worry about.

The Crystal View 2 is a video projector that will display movies and TV better than any projector in its price range. It is definitely not a projector for everyone, but for those who can take the plunge, it is something to behold. In a dedicated media room, the Crystal View 2 will reproduce bright, colorful pictures that are so filmlike that it can take your breath away.

At nearly $45,000, this projector is extremely expensive, yet for those who can afford it, it offers a solid, long-term value. In years of owning a lesser CRT projector and shopping for future upgrades at the CEDIA and CES trade shows, I can accept the fact that there are currently no diamonds in the rough that will outperform this projector for less money. The Crystal View 2 is a modern-day video gem that will make any high-end theater/media room the envy of all who are privileged enough to watch a movie there.

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